After doing some editing recently for this Shanaplan Debate post on Sami Vatanen, it got me thinking about potential avenues for acquiring him from the Leafs’ perspective. When it comes down to it, the Leafs really don’t have much in the way of valuable assets that aren’t definite key pieces of their long-term future. Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner and James Van Riemsdyk are probably the only three in that category, and I’d be incredibly hesitant to move on from any of those players anytime soon.
So how else do you get Vatanen?
Well, you can offer sheet him. For reference, here are the 2016 compensation rules for offer sheets from CapFriendly:
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) May 13, 2016
But, we all know the many drawbacks to offer-sheeting. First, it can cost you a significant chunk in high draft picks to get really good players through this strategy. Second, it can really sully the professional relationship you have with other GMs when you poach their good players that they can’t afford to pay what they deserve. Vatanen would certainly fall into that category.
But these are minor hurdles that a GM like Lou Lamoriello should have no problem getting past (in a metaphorical sense – at 73 I think he’d have a pretty hard time clearing actual hurdles).
I’m going to take a look at a strategy to acquire Vatanen that isn’t as simple as giving him an offer sheet. There are layers and steps to it, so read along and see how sleazy we can get.
STEP 1: ACQUIRE A 3rd ROUND PICK IN 2017
The Leafs are unfortunately required to forfeit both their 2017 and 2018 3rd round picks as a result of acquiring the above-mentioned Lamoriello and Mike Babcock. Thankfully this rule no longer exists, but the Leafs are still required to follow it as they made those acquisitions while that rule still applied.
And, according to those pick compensation rules above, you need a 3rd round pick in 2017 if you’re going to offer sheet anyone between $3.755M and $9.388M, a range that Vatanen and many other targets definitely fall within.
So reacquiring a pick in that round becomes step one in order to execute any of the rest of this plan. Easy targets that come to mind are Matt Hunwick, Stuart Percy, and Colin Greening, but there are even more options than that. This step shouldn’t be hard to do. The Leafs have done it once before, actually, when they reacquired their own second round pick from Chicago to put pressure on the Boston Bruins during negotiations for Phil Kessel in 2009.
But just keep this piece in mind. If you see the Leafs go acquire their own 2017 third rounder back, and you’re wondering why? It could mean that they are pursuing offer sheets. Whether that specifically means Vatanen or not, well, is up in the air.
Like I said above, though, it’s not good enough to just send an offer sheet and laugh while Bob Murray has to sort his cards out with extra pressure. So what’s step 2 then?
STEP 2: MAKE A PRETTY GOOD TRADE OFFER
Now, we’re not looking to actually secure Vatanen through this trade. At least not yet. There’s no pressure for them to move him right now, they’ve got lots of time to sort their cap issues out.
No, this trade proposal is just meant to get the conversation started. I’d imagine that phone call going something like this:
Me: “Hello Bob Murray, General Manager of the Anaheim Ducks and old friend of mine. How are you today?”
Bob: “Hello Ryan, yes we are great friends because you are the best GM in Toronto Maple Leafs history and as such we talk all the time. I’m well, how are you?”
Me: “Doing well Bob, thank you so much for asking. I was looking around at shoring up the right side of my defense and I saw that you haven’t signed Sami Vatanen yet. What’s your perspective on him right now?”
Bob: “[Something about him being a key piece and not willing to part with him for cheap]”
Me; “Totally understand Bob. How would Peter Holland, Frank Corrado and a 2nd round pick sound to you?”
Bob: “You know what Ryan, since we’re such great friends, I’ll give this some consideration. But just letting you know, the price might be a bit higher than this.”
Me: “Again i completely understand Bob. I want you to know we’re very interested in acquiring Vatanen. I hope we can get a trade done, so that we can avoid trying alternate methods. Have a good evening Bob.”
Okay, so we just made a decent trade offer that Anaheim doesn’t accept 10 times out of 10. We opened up the dialogue, we maintained good relationship, now on to step 3.
STEP 3: SHEA WEBER HAMPUS LINDHOLM
I’m using “Shea Weber” as a verb in this instance.
/ʃeɪ Webɜːr /
1. Overrated defenseman for the Nashville Predators
2. Undeserving holder of a place on the 2016 World Cup of Hockey for Team Canada.
1. To offer sheet a player that you know the other team is not willing to part with, for a dollar value that is far higher than they ever expected to pay.
(Yes, those are the proper IPA phonetic symbols to spell Shea Weber, and, yes, I spent entirely too long figuring that out)
The Flyers offered Shea Weber a 14-year, $110M contract (which is now so totally illegal), forcing the Predators to match if they had any hope of retaining Weber. I’m proposing the Leafs make a similar offer to Hampus Lindholm, forcing the Ducks to match. Something in the vicinity of $5.5M should work perfectly.
Now that the Ducks are cemented in cap hell, you’re on to Step 4.
STEP 4: REOPEN YOUR TRADE TALKS ON VATANEN
You wait a little while, Bob Murray hates your guts, but eventually matches your Lindholm offer sheet. (This is important for step 5). Once he finally answers your call, you go back to your Vatanen discussion. This is in the interest of salvaging your relationship with Murray. Obviously, you screwed him pretty royally with Lindholm, but you want to try to be fair. Keep talks open. Let him know you had a sudden interest in Lindholm and had to put the offer sheet in and just wanted him so badly that you were willing to pay him that much.
You could increase your offer a bit, in hopes to not insult Murray. Maybe you offer Bozak, Connor Carrick and two 2nd round picks this time! Intriguing! With the Ducks in a pinch, they’re more inclined to take this deal. If they say yes – hey, you’re off to the races with Zaitsev, Vatanen and Corrado as your RHDs. Pretty damn good.
However, the more likely situation is that they say no. So, on to Step 5.
STEP 5: OFFER SHEET SAMI VATANEN
I mentioned this above, but it’s important that you wait until after the Ducks match the offer sheet on Lindholm. You have to have the requisite picks available to submit an offer sheet, and while the Lindholm one was still up in the air, you wouldn’t have been able to send one in for Vatanen.
Now that we’re able to, how much do you offer?
Well, let’s look at just how hampered the Ducks are financially. This past season, they operated $6.95M underneath the salary cap. and had actual player salaries of $66.76M. By my calculations, they already have $58.5M tied up in actual player salary for next year, with Corey Perry taking a $1M raise in actual salary, Kevin Bieksa, John Gibson, Simon Despres and Ryan Kesler all getting raises, and others getting small raises/pay cuts. When you add in the Lindholm contract, probably worth around $6M in actual salary in the first season. That leaves the Ducks with $2.2M in salary room left. That $2.2M has to be enough for Vatanen, Rakell, and Pirri (assuming they move Frederik Andersen), which just doesn’t really seem possible. The Ducks are sufficiently hamstrung.
So you have two options. the risky option and the expensive option.
Offer Vatanen a 2 year, $7.5M contract. This would be an AAV of $3.75M, requiring compensation of only one second round pick. You could even discourage the Ducks from matching further by front loading the contract with $4.25M in the first year and $3.25M in the second year.
Now, the risk enters when you have to consider whether another team would be willing to offer a higher number. Obviously, other teams in the league would be aware of Anaheim’s pickled finances, so you’d have to expect that Vatanen would be on the radar of anyone who needs another top 4 defenseman and has the requisite picks to offer. In order to beat the Leafs’ offer, another team would have to offer a contract worth $3.76M to $5.632M, causing them to forfeit their 1st and 3rd round picks. This is a steep price to pay for the Leafs, but other teams who are aiming to finish later in the standings could be very interested in paying that price.
Now the Leafs are forced to climb into that next rung of pick compensation, forfeiting a 1st and 3rd round pick in 2017. I sincerely believe that’s a price worth paying for Vatanen, expecting the Leafs to improve dramatically next season (and adding Vatanen would only exacerbate that). Now the game becomes: how much do you have to offer to make sure you win?
This part is incredibly subjective, and Brandon Pridham would do a much better job of finding the perfect dollar value than I would. My guess would it would be around $4.25M, but it could be even higher than that depending on league interest from teams like the Penguins, Islanders, and Stars who could really use Vatanen.
Looking at this, that’s a long set of steps, but I believe the end result is a worthwhile acquisition in Sami Vatanen. Having him shore up that right side would be a huge boost to the 2016-17 Maple Leafs. However, I wouldn’t expect any trades with the Ducks anytime soon if you were capable of pulling this off.